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Thread: A Victorian Christmas

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    Jethro BienvenuJDC's Avatar
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    A Victorian Christmas

    This year I will be throwing a Victorian Christmas Party. I have gotten a lot of ideas from old traditions found in songs, poems, and literature. I've already tried a recipe for Figgy Pudding (which is nothing like I would have expected). I've asked various people to bring such things as sugarplums, eggnog, wassail, and roasted chestnuts. I will be reciting A Visit from St Nicholas by Clement C Moore, and we will be singing Christmas Carols. (there will be no viewing movies this night) We will also be exchanging gifts that are all to be completely homemade.

    Now I appeal to you all. You are all from diverse cultures and are well educated in literature. Would you share different traditions, foods, games, and activities that could possibly fit in to this themed party? I know there are some things in books like The Christmas Carol, but I want to see what all else you guys may know of.
    Les Miserables,
    Volume 1, Fifth Book, Chapter 3
    Remember this, my friends: there are no such things as bad plants or bad men. There are only bad cultivators.

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    From a A Christmas Carol you can learn a lot of things, particularly that a lot of the things that go on nowadays didn't go on then.

    There are no Christmas parties earlier than the evening of 24 December (the Fezziwigs ball), although carol singers may go round the streets earlier that day.

    The Cratchits have no Christmas tree.

    Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim go to church on Christmas Day.

    There are no fresh vegetables in the Cratchit Christmas lunch. Being poor, they don't seem to have any Christmas presents either.

    And for a late Victorian take on Christmas, here's George R Sims http://www.christmas-time.com/cp-work.html
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Well, the Christmas tree was a true Victorian product. Well, an Albertian product, actually. When Queen Victoria married her German Albert, each year he had 6 huge Christmas trees shipped from the Black Forest to England to decorate the palace. The splendour of that very heathen (to a certain extent) and very very traditional cosy feel of this festival appealed so much that in no time, the higher classes and the middle class absolutely needed that Christmas tree. The fire hasard because of the candles in the Christmas trees became so bad that the London fire service forbade lighting any candles in trees before the 24th.
    It is still a great wish of mine to burn candles in a Christmas tree once, to see what it's like. It must be magical. But I don't dare to . Maybe outside.

    Before the Christmas tree, people used holly (signature bush of the male Celtic God whose feast it s on the 24th or midwinter) and mistletoe to decorate the house, as they had done since Celtic times. A 1970s adaptation of Emma features that. Funny.

    What about fish for dinner? In Poland and parts of Germany it is still a tradition to eat fish for dinner on Christmas Eve. I think it has to do with a heathen goddess who would rip open your tummy if you had eaten meat or if you hadn't done your work. I can't recall how the two got muddled up...

    In Ireland they used to give people soul cakes. I think it started as a kind of offering to the spirits, but poor people used to eat them.
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'me ne se vide ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scne VII)

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    The fish on Christmas Eve is because it is a fast day (or a meat free day at least) as the vigil to a major feast. Sir Gawayne and the Grene Knyght includes an account of a sumptuous banquet on Christmas Eve, but with no meat for that reason.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    I have never understood why citizens of a republic use the term Victorian as if it was part of their own history. Christmas in my tradition was not celebrated much and is a recent English import. Still any excuse for a midwinter pagan binge. I'd go with that!

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    Internal nebulae TheFifthElement's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BienvenuJDC View Post
    We will also be exchanging gifts that are all to be completely homemade.
    You may want to consider exchanging gifts on Boxing Day (Dec 26th - also St Stephen's Day & the Feast of Stephen from the Good King Wenceslas carol) rather than Christmas Day. Boxing Day was the traditional day for employers to give gifts to their employees and when the churches opened the alm boxes for the poor. Most of your ordinary Victorian folk would be more likely to receive 'gifts' on this day.
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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ennison View Post
    I have never understood why citizens of a republic use the term Victorian as if it was part of their own history. Christmas in my tradition was not celebrated much and is a recent English import. Still any excuse for a midwinter pagan binge. I'd go with that!
    Because it refers to a particular culture and period? Victorian is far more succinct than "mid-19th century British culture," and it can encompass extensions to imperial manifestations of that culture in places like India or Canada. It also makes a useful distinction from mid-century American culture dominated by the Civil War and the Western expansion.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
    - Margaret Atwood

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    And something that the modern age tends to forget when it thinks Christmas begins some time in mid-November. In A Christmas Carol the Fezziwigs don't think of having a Christmas party before the evening of 24 December. There were certainly traditions of keeping the twelve days after Christmas up to the feast of the Epiphany on 6 January (when Spanish and Italian children receive their presents). There were certainly Twelfth Night traditions you might like to look up.

    The superstition now is you should take down the Christmas decorations on 6 January. My view is you should certainly keep them up until then.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

  9. #9
    It sounds fun. You should make yourself some mulled wine or some wassail punch:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe76pKoCZOs
    4 minutes, 16.

    (~The woman at the start of the video making crackers is the great Ruth Goodman!! I like to tease Mrs Neely saying that I am in love with her - she is very good at all sorts of Victorian things though to be fair. I went to see her talk once and sat right in the front row, haaaaa...Now that is a women who will stitch you some socks while you are out on the farm doing battle with the elements.)

    Edit: to use a modern teen expression (once and never again) I will say, 9 minutes 50 on the video and OMG!
    Last edited by LitNetIsGreat; 11-13-2012 at 04:36 PM.

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    Jethro BienvenuJDC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    Because it refers to a particular culture and period? Victorian is far more succinct than "mid-19th century British culture," and it can encompass extensions to imperial manifestations of that culture in places like India or Canada. It also makes a useful distinction from mid-century American culture dominated by the Civil War and the Western expansion.
    Thanks, OP. You actually answered that quite well for me.
    Les Miserables,
    Volume 1, Fifth Book, Chapter 3
    Remember this, my friends: there are no such things as bad plants or bad men. There are only bad cultivators.

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    Original Poster Buh4Bee's Avatar
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    My mother-in-law brought back Christmas "crackers" from Wales for last Christmas. We enjoyed them!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/victorianchrist...crackers.shtml

    There are many crafts that you can do ahead of time, since you are giving home made gift. You can also decorate the tree with some paper craft ornaments.

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    Yes but it's strangely Anglocentric for a foreign country and suggests that really you are frustrated Royalists. Anyway it may be no more than an unconscious habit but it irritates me to see a fellow like Ibsen (an example you understand) referred to as a Victorian. The Victorian era was specifically a UK era. PS if you really want 'em ...

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    Internal nebulae TheFifthElement's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Buh4Bee View Post
    My mother-in-law brought back Christmas "crackers" from Wales for last Christmas. We enjoyed them!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/victorianchrist...crackers.shtml

    There are many crafts that you can do ahead of time, since you are giving home made gift. You can also decorate the tree with some paper craft ornaments.
    I thought Christmas crackers were universal
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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Here's positive suggestion.

    In the UK now the invariable centre of the Christmas dinner is roast turkey. In the US you have turkey as the center (sic) of the Thanksgiving dinner, so I don't know if turkey is as ubiquitous at Xmas.

    However turkey in the UK is a newcomer. The bird for the Victorians would have been a goose. My mum told me that here granny always had goose, and it is what the Crachits have for their dinner (with potatoes and no green veg).

    A goose is like a big duck, so it has more fat than a turkey. I've never roasted either whole, but I imagine you need to take a bit more care with a goose. There's less meat on a goose (although that isn't a disadvantage - cold turkey (literally) is eaten endlessly in the UK after 25 December) and the meat is darker. But it is a far more interesting and tasty meat that turkey. I believe sage and onion stuffing and apple sauce.

    But the must-have is a Christmas pudding. The fifth Sunday before Christmas was sometimes known as "Stir Up Sunday" because it was the day to mix the puddings, and the prayer for the day in church began "Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people.." It should be made well in advance, and served up on the day with flaming brandy. (See Through the Looking Glass for a mention.)
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    All are at the crossroads qimissung's Avatar
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    So how did it go, Bienvenu?
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